You sign up for a new social media site or are trying to buy something online and when the terms of service agreement pops up, you breeze past it faster than you blaze through a yellow light when you’re 20 minutes late to an appointment.
Problem is: Those dense, dry, boring legal documents sometimes give companies the right to do a lot of things with your personal information. And in your haste to post or purchase, you sign away your rights without realizing it.
It’s a practice that has been well known for years, but the testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has put legal terms of service in the spotlight—and now a bipartisan group of Congressional lawmakers are looking to help people know just what they’re agreeing to.
The Terms-of-service Labeling, Design, and Readability Act—or, TLDR for short (who says Congress can’t be funny)—introduced Thursday, would require websites and online services to provide an easily digestible summary of their terms—without the legalese. (For a bill entitled TLDR, at 9 pages and about 1,800 words, it’s a little TMI.)
“For far too long, blanket terms of service agreements have forced consumers to either ‘agree’ to all of a company’s conditions or lose access to a website or app entirely,” said Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA), a sponsor of the House version of the bill, in a statement. “To further slant the decision in their favor, many companies design unnecessarily long and complicated contracts, knowing that users don’t have the bandwidth to read lengthy legal documents when they’re simply trying to message a loved one or make a quick purchase. The potential for abuse is obvious, and . . . this is a problem that transcends political parties.”
Data privacy is another big concern. “Users should not have to comb through pages of legal jargon in a website’s terms of services to know how their data will be used,” added Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who’s sponsoring the bill in the Senate. “Requiring companies to provide an easy-to-understand summary of their terms should be mandatory and is long overdue.”
In the spirit of TLDR, here’s a quick look at what the TLDR Act would require:
- What type of consumer information the site is collecting
- Whether the data the company collects is necessary to provide their service
- A graphic diagram of how the consumer’s data is shared with third parties
- Instructions on how consumers can delete their data—or a warning if they’re unable to delete it
- The legal liabilities of a consumer using the service (i.e. rights to their content, mandatory arbitration, and class action waivers)
- Disclosures about any reported data breaches within the last three years
The bill, if enacted, would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.